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New Data on Coronavirus Vaccines Reducing Transmission Is a Boost for Restaurants and Pubs

Initial data on the Astra Zeneca and Pfizer vaccines’ reduction of COVID-19 spread could change the game for hospitality

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Mayor of London Sadiq Khan receives his first dose of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan receives his first dose of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine
Stefan Rousseau/PA Images via Getty Images

Initial Public Health England (PHE) data on the impact of coronavirus vaccines on transmission will show a reduction of two-thirds across all studied age groups, according to the Telegraph. While clinical trials and controlled studies by manufacturers have already shown that both vaccines protect against severe disease, hospitalisation, and death — the key pressures that COVID-19 places on the NHS — a reduction in transmission and infection is crucial to their wider impact on coronavirus restrictions.

The data on falling infections and transmission, taken from vaccinated healthcare workers and care home workers, is connected to both the Pfizer vaccine, administered since December, and the Oxford / Astra Zeneca vaccine, which began to be administered in January 2021. The analysis from PHE, which is the first “real world” observation of the vaccines’ impact, could be a boost for restaurants, pubs, cafes, and bars in their path to reopening after England’s lockdown ends. Encouragingly, the observations include the time in which the South African B.1.351 variant has been observed in England, but controlled studies still show a modest reduction in effectiveness against that variant, which is not expected to become the dominant strain in the U.K.

This will not change Boris Johnson’s lockdown reopening roadmap, due 22 February; this will not change Rishi Sunak’s Budget, due 3 March, which is now widely expected to include extensions to the furlough scheme and business rates relief. Despite internal Conservative pressure from lockdown sceptics, largely from the influential hyper conservative 1922 Committee, this initial data is not going to mean a sudden reopening of restaurants and pubs with no restrictions. It will not change the belief that for the “foreseeable future,” social distancing will be required in hospitality venues — and with it, financial support from the government for the trade lost as a result.

Longer term, it could offer an environment — with enough vaccination coverage — in which restaurants, pubs, cafes, and bars could trade without social distancing, more secure in the knowledge that the transmission chains for workers and diners — who travel to and from these spaces, interacting with the public and their households along the way — are significantly less likely to spread the virus asymptomatically. And after a nightmare 12 months, they will take hope where they can find it.